You may think my little guy is shy. Actually, I prefer the more specific term “introverted.” He absolutely enjoys family and friends, loves to laugh and play, and will sing and dance like no one’s watching. The catch is that he wants to make sure he’s in a safe and supportive environment before he relaxes and shows you his gregarious side. He’s like his mom that way.
In our very extroverted world, I often find myself trying to ease other peoples’ discomfort with my son’s (and my own) introversion. When he stared down grown men while only 9 months old, I was there to say to them, “Don’t worry. He’s not challenging you to a duel. He’s becoming more and more comfortable with you.”
When he sticks by my side at another toddler’s birthday party, I assure the birthday child’s parents that my son is indeed warming up to play and will very likely have a great time. He just needs to get used to his surroundings first.
And when he wiggles away from his visiting grandmother’s arms when she goes to hug him after several months of not seeing him, my goal is to prevent any heartbreak by reminding all family members that Eli likes about 30 minutes to an hour to observe before he interacts with faces he does not see on a daily or weekly basis. Everyone is all smiles again when, like clockwork, after a little time, Eli’s warm and loving personality shines through his initial cautiousness.
I think I am so patient with my son’s introversion because I heavily lean towards introversion myself (it is an inheritable trait, after all). We share a love for one-on-one conversations, small group play, and quiet time. We still get a kick out of large, boisterous crowds and events every now and then, but cozy and intimate describes our comfort zone.
Sometimes I think the challenge really lies in convincing extroverts (who make up the majority of the world’s population) that there is nothing wrong with us innies. In this mission, I appreciate the work of Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D., a Portland-based author and family therapist. Dr Laney wrote The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child: Helping Your Child Thrive in an Extroverted World. In true introvert fashion, I’ve been reading through this book very slowly—digesting it piece by piece. (In fact, it is on loan from our own Tulsa Kids editor. Thanks, Betty, for letting me hold onto it for the past year!)
What does the book say in a nutshell? – We are hardwired from birth to lean towards an introverted or extroverted temperament though most of us can function at any point on the continuum between the two for a given amount of time. Both temperaments have their strengths and weaknesses, and both have much to offer to the world. There is nothing wrong with being either.
The key is in knowing our own individual children and how to best support them in who they are. Also, in “it takes a village”-style, let’s recognize in our collective children a wide range of healthy, developmentally-appropriate behavior. How boring it would be if we were all the same!
If you have an “innie” child, I highly recommend Dr. Laney’s book for its tips on how you can help your child build strong bonds for a safe and secure foundation, develop social savvy, and learn how to always get the peace and time to herself she requires to recharge and maintain well-being.
And if you see Eli and me at the park playing by ourselves, we’re not ignoring you. We’re just taking our time and enjoying ourselves. If you’re free, we may catch up with you later.
Two Big Myths About Introversion
(From The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child)
Myth: Introverted children are shy.
Truth: Leading shyness expert Bernardo Carducci wrote, “Introverts are not necessarily shy. They have social skills and self-esteem necessary for interacting successfully with others but simply require privacy to recharge their batteries and they actually enjoy solitude. Shy people want to be noticed, liked, and accepted but they lack the skills and the thoughts, feelings, and attitudes that could help them manage social interaction.”
Myth: Introverted children are not friendly.
Truth: “Introverts may be quite friendly. They just may not be in an ideal position to express it in every situation…. Parents can help create bridges for their innie by helping other people understand his or her way of being friendly, and by creating scenarios that allow their child to express that friendliness.”